Online Symposium "Russia’s Civilizational Politics: Conceptual, Methodological and Comparative Approaches"

Evenemanget hålls på engelska.

NB! The event will be held on Zoom. To attend the event please click on the link

Over the last two decades, there is evidence that civilizational imaginaries have been changing political and social realities in and between a number of rising and re-emerging powers. Russia, which has challenged the rules and norms of a Western-dominated international order rather explicitly, is an excellent example of a state promoting a culturally defined civilizational identity that seeks (in some way) to change the world. In the Russian case, there has been an explicit rejection of the unipolar, unicultural ‘end of history’ of Fukayama’s liberal politics and the gradual acceptance of the political ideas of a new group of conservative intellectuals who promote a very different ‘end of history’. Debates about the meaning of history and its ties to civilizational thought are not new in modern Russia; these contemporary sentiments have parallels with the Slavophile-Westerniser debates of the 19th century.

In contemporary Russia, this debate was reinvigorated by Putin’s return to the Presidency in 2012 (Pain 2016; Laruelle 2017; Ponarin, Komin 2018). This is when talk of Russia’s civilizational values and Russia’s civilizing mission became prominent in state discourse and policies. This state-led civilizationalism has brought together a disparate set: traditionalists (The Orthodox Church, conservatives, pro-Kremlin nationalists and neo-Slavophiles), actors within the state (Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Culture) and political realists within think tanks and the academy. However, it is unclear how far a single vision of Russian civilization is shared among these groups, who the key ‘civilizational identity entrepreneurs’ are and if/how this vision is spread downwards to smaller grassroot organisations and into public consciousness more generally. More work is needed to ‘identify the sources of micro-level civilizational identification’ among individuals (Hale, Laruelle 2020: 3) and how varying visions of civilization in Russia (‘European’, ‘unique’, ‘Asian’, ‘Mixed’) combine or compete to influence political values, stances and international behaviour. 

Our online symposium aims to stimulate new discussions related to existing Russian and comparative research on civilizational politics. A number of questions will be considered:

• Can we identify and characterise civilizational thought as a form of political ideology? Is there such a thing as ‘civilizationalism’ in Russia? Is it different from nationalism? Is Illiberalism a more useful ideological concept to deploy in the Russian case? (Laruelle 2020)

• Are civilizational and anti-Western political discourses less about ideology – as in a coherent set of action-guiding ideas / doctrines – and more to do with providing a legitimation for power, and specifically for authoritarian regime consolidation? (Gudkov 2013; Gessen 2017)

• How far is Russia’s civilization turn linked to Russia’s (apparently) persistent ‘imperial syndrome’ (Verkhovsky, Pain 2012; Pain 2016)? Or is the ‘imperial’ dimension to this politics best understood in relative terms; as a response to the boundary-changing politics that has been championed by NATO’s and the EU’s enlargements? (Gheciu 2008, Zielonka 2013, Ferguson 2018, Rotaru 2020)

• Has Russia’s ‘civilizational imaginary’ become a ‘social fact’ embedded in policy practices and institutions? Does a civilizational imaginary guide state policy behaviour, solidifying in those institutions claiming to represent the civilization?

• How can we study the meaning or significance of a ‘civilizational identity’ across Russian society?

• What new insights do these Russia-centred analyses and reflections provide to the theory and practice of ‘civilizational politics’ (Katzenstein 2008, Bettiza 2013, Coker 2019) in the twenty-first century?

The event brings together researchers from IR, political sociology and cultural studies, who together form the basis of a new research cluster at the Institute of Russian and Eurasian Studies.

We welcome you to join our panel of experts and audience of selected specialists on this topic.

Chair: Mark Bassin (Södertörn University)

Keynote: Marlene Laruelle (George Washington University)

Event Speakers:

Iain Ferguson (Higher School of Economics, Moscow) Russia’s ‘State Civilization’: A Policy of Neo-Medieval Imperialism?

Aliaksei Kazharski (Charles University, Prague) Civilizational Discourses and Russia’s Pursuit of Ontological Security

Mikhail Suslov (University of Copenhagen) Regime Ideology and Civilizational Rhetoric

Matthew Blackburn (Uppsala University) Micro-level Civilizational Identification: Polling Data and Discourse Analysis